Duluth, MN – Minnesota and UMD have a storied in-state rivalry, but this year’s playing comes with a little extra juice.
UMD has beaten Minnesota eight-straight times, with the ‘U’s last win coming in October of 2014. The most recent of those losses was a 4-3 OT defeat to open the 2017-2018 season.
While the beginning of the season stung for Minnesota, it’s nowhere near the agony the Gophers felt as the hands of fate swung against them at the bitter end of the season.
After losing the third-place game in the NCHC tournament last season, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs had a 1.8% chance to advance to the NCAA tournament over the Gophers, needing six separate games to break their way in order to make the big dance.
Those things all happened, UMD bumped the Gophers out of the playoffs by .0001 in the RPI, and the Bulldogs went on to win four consecutive one-goal games to capture their second NCAA Championship. Since the victory, UMD coach Scott Sandelin has been praised for running the best recent program in college hockey, while the Gophers parted ways with longtime bench boss Don Lucia and hired St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko to take the reins of a stagnating Gopher program.
Against that backdrop, the Gophers and Bulldogs laced up the skates to begin the 2018-2019 season; rivals separated by one ten-thousandth of a point last year, but by a massive gulf in recent results. Like their final results last season, the two teams could barely be separated Saturday, and the Bulldogs and Gophers skated to a 1-1 tie to open the season.
The game itself played much like what one would expect from an early-season affair. Gopher coach Motzko characterized it as “both teams were out there just surviving.”
The game featured a few sloppy penalties (the Gophers gave UMD five powerplay opportunities, including three in the third period), not many tape-to-tape passes, and a lot of hockey that the coaching staff would like to clean up as the season progresses.
Freshman left-winger Sampo Ranta opened the scoring for the Gophers, taking a Tommy Novak pass and sniping a wrist shot past UMD’s Hunter Shepard at 12:07 of the first period. Clayton Phillips also assisted on the goal, earning his first point as a Gopher.
The teams were cagey throughout the second period, with a few flashes of chances opening up, but both Shepard and Minnesota’s Mat Robson made big saves to keep the score at 1-0.
In the third, the penalties finally took their toll on the Gophers as UMD’s Peter Krieger scored on the man-advantage to tie the game at 1-1. Duluth had 3:50 in a row of powerplay time in the middle of the third, including an abbreviated 5×3 opportunity, but the Gopher penalty kill held UMD scoreless and sent the game to overtime, where the two teams held on for a draw.
Motzko did discuss some of the positives he took away from the game: “We liked a lot of the things that we saw. We saw some character and heart with our guys and their battle level.”
However, he criticized the transition among other things as areas that the team needs to improve. “The things that we didn’t get going… I just want to flip the calendar, because a month from now we’re going to be better.”
Finally, Motzko addressed the penalties, saying “we have to clean up our discipline.”
Minnesota and UMD face-off again Sunday evening, this time at Mariucci Arena. The game is at 7PM and can be seen on Fox Sports North.
New this year in NCAA hockey, teams are allowed to dress an extra player. Saturday, Coach Motzko dressed 12 forwards and 7 defensemen, with Robbie Stucker seeing decent minutes as the extra defenseman.
Highly-touted freshman Blake McLaughlin is out with a lower-body injury for up to 6 weeks.
After Sunday’s game, the Gophers play exhibition games the following two weekends. Their next non-exhibition game is the Hall of Fame game versus North Dakota on October 27th. They resume ‘normal’ two-game weekend sets the first weekend in November when they have a home-and-home matchup with Minnesota State.